As we drove towards the Central Serengeti plains a head bobbed up from behind a rising – I immediately exclaimed – Vulture!! But as the bird continued to come towards us it became apparent that the bird was taller than any vulture I know of, as the legs came into view they were more like that of a Stork or a Crane. This was my first encounter with the Secretary-bird.
Secretary-bird, Sagittarius serpentarius is endemic to Africa and is a raptor unlike any other. Adapted to a specialist terrestrial lifestyle, the long legs help on walking through the grassland hunting prey like snakes which are reportedly stamped to death by the hard pads of the small scaly feet. Its common name is popularly thought to derive from the crest of long quill-like feathers, lending the bird the appearance of a secretary with quill pens tucked behind his or her ear, as was once common practice. A more recent hypothesis is that “secretary” is borrowed from a French corruption of the Arabic saqr-et-tair or “hunter-bird”.
Over the course of our trip we were lucky to observe several specimen, including a nesting pair and a familial group of eight.